A federal court on Sunday denied a request to halt construction on Enbridge's Line 3 oil pipeline across northern Minnesota and upheld a key water quality permit granted to the project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last year.
The decision stems from a Dec. 24 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., by the White Earth and Red Lake nations and environmental groups Sierra Club and Honor the Earth that sought to stop construction as the groups argued the Army Corps had failed to consider environmental impacts like climate change and a potential oil spill.
In an opinion filed Sunday, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote the groups and bands did not meet the burden of proof necessary for the injunction and said the harm of stopping construction, which began Dec. 1, outweighs the environmental risks of the new Line 3. She noted "most of the environmental effects stemming from the construction of Line 3 will not be 'permanent or irreversible, as the preliminary injunction standard requires.'"
"Overall, the court finds the balance of harms and public interest considerations to be a close call," Kollar-Kotelly wrote. "Plaintiffs offer numerous examples of potential environmental harms stemming from the project’s construction. But the Corps presents persuasive evidence that delaying construction — and in doing so, continuing to rely on existing Line 3 which Enbridge is required to decommission pursuant to its consent decree — also causes ongoing environmental harm and safety risks.
"The court cannot ignore the potential financial losses and harmful economic effects on the local community if construction on the project were to be delayed. Taking into account all these considerations, the court finds that plaintiffs have not definitely tipped the scale in their favor," Kollar-Kotelly wrote.
In a statement, Enbridge spokesperson Julie Kellner said the company was "pleased with this decision that acknowledges the thorough, inclusive and science-based review of the Line 3 Replacement Project by the US Army Corps of Engineers which included robust public participation and consultation with 30 tribes."
In a news release, opponents of Line 3 expressed disappointment in the decision.
"We’re disturbed that the court would not at least temporarily stop Enbridge from destroying the water and wetlands we have used and depended on since time immemorial,” Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians Chairman Darrell G. Seki Sr. said in the release. “But we will not stop fighting.”
It's the second court decision that's allowed Line 3 construction to continue within a week.
Last week, the Minnesota Court of Appeals denied a request by the same bands that sought to halt construction on Line 3 until ongoing court cases were resolved.
Ongoing cases question whether the pipeline is actually needed and challenge the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's November approval of the pipeline's 401 certification — a permit awarded by a state's regulators if the project's impact on water falls within the state's standard.
Construction on the 340-mile Line 3 is expected to last 6-9 months. More than 5,000 workers are currently working on it, Enbridge said last month. Once complete, the pipeline will replace the existing, aging Line 3 and ferry 760,000 barrels of oil (31.92 million gallons) per day from Alberta, Canada, to Enbridge's terminal in Superior, following a new route through much of northern Minnesota. The segments in Canada, North Dakota and Wisconsin are already complete.